March 18--Some members of the City Council say they are unsure what will come from a closed-door meeting Monday morning to discuss a years-long legal battle with the city's former insurance administrator, and others just won't talk.
Councilman Victor Hernandez said he is unaware of any official reason for the executive session, but suspects the city's legal team may want to brief the council on potential legal maneuvering by AAG after federal investigators closed a 3 1/2 -year investigation of the company and the city about a month ago.
AAG maintained the health insurance business for Lubbock's 6,000 employees from 2004 until 2006 under the auspices of The Parker Group, owned by Ted Parker, now part of an umbrella health group known as HealthSmart.
The legal battle reaches back to 2006 when the city cut ties to AAG amid concerns of improper fees and commissions. Lubbock officials remain locked in this legal haggling over what they say are overcharges by Parker's company and over legal fees.
In a Saturday telephone interview, Hernandez said he's unsure if the council would discuss a settlement with AAG, but speculated the upcoming May election and possible turnover in the council could inspire both parties to find a quick solution.
"There's always that possibility," he said. "I think there's some concern and some talk from people associated with this case by the possibility others might not approve a settlement. There's the possibility someone else might go full bore in pursuing legal action."
Hernandez, whose office term does not expire this election cycle, declined to elaborate.
The councilman said he didn't believe Wednesday's decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granting a judgment and fees to former city employee Martha Ellerbrook would affect the AAG arbitration, calling the cases "apples and oranges."
Councilman Paul Beane, a candidate for re-election, said he hadn't been briefed on the agenda for Monday's meeting, but understood the council would discuss only the one item. He said he does not know if coming to a settlement instead of continuing arbitration would be a topic of discussion in the meeting.
"There's nothing at all I can tell you at this point," he said. "If we have an open meeting after that session, we'll be able to discuss more then."
State law allows public bodies to meet in executive session to discuss legal matters. The public bodies do not have to talk about those discussions, unless they make decisions by voting, which must be conducted in public.
Beane also declined to discuss if the Ellerbrook case would have any effect on council discussions about AAG on Monday.
On Friday, Mayor Tom Martin, a candidate for re-election, declined to talk about the meeting other than to confirm the city's legal team would discuss arbitration with the council.
In February, the mayor said legal fees for the city in the AAG case amounted to nearly $3.5 million.
Council members Todd Klein, Karen Gibson and Jim Gilbreath did not return calls from The Avalanche-Journal by late Saturday. The terms of Klein and Gibson are not up for election this cycle. Gilbreath's seat is, but he is not seeking re-election.
Councilman Floyd Price, who is a candidate for his seat, declined to comment Saturday, citing the Sabbath. Price is a Seventh Day Adventist, and Adventists recognize Saturday until sundown as the Sabbath.
Also at issue is the release of a controversial audit of the city's dealings with Parker's company.
The Avalanche-Journal has been working to make that audit public. Attorneys for HealthSmart have appealed public records requests for the audit to the courts. The issue remains tied up in court.
Hernandez said he remains open to making the audit public as long as the release wouldn't damage any decision by the court relating to arbitration or a settlement.
"I know what we've been told as a council at this point, and there is a certain amount of risk in releasing it now," he said, declining to elaborate.
Beane said the council still planned to pursue options revealing the city's audit of the former insurance administrator.
"Of course the council has always been interested in (the court) opening the audit up to the public," he said. "I'm anxious for the public to see the audit."
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